Zanmai Offers the Best of American Fine Dining with an Asian Flair

By on November 22, 2013

Don’t think of it as Japanese. Its sleek modern decor, cathedral-height ceiling with soaring plate-glass windows, breathtaking view of the downtown skyline, the suave and attentive service, and of course its creative steak, lamb and fish dishes, basically haute cuisine European style with a bit of Asian flair, all embody the best of American fine dining.

Zanmai Lamb

Take that lamb ($28) … American fine dining on a plate. Four chops, succulent and juicy and cooked exactly as I requested (it’s one of the few places that know that rare means rare, even with lamb), are bursting with rich lamby flavor, which is accented by the creamy lemongrass sauce. The sauce doesn’t hog the show; it yields a subtle citric flavor. The potatoes are fine too: little balls of goodness explode in your mouth. And it’s perhaps the only place in town where the view vies with the food.

Zanmai Main Dining Room

We came early so we could get a table by the window. That’s my friend to the left of the pillar. She doesn’t know I am behind her taking this photo. It’s a fine place to watch the sunset, and, as the skies slowly darken, lights in the skyscrapers come on.

My first glimpse of Zanmai was almost half a year before, on a hot summer day in July. I was reading The Fountainhead then, and the architecture amazed me. Howard Roark would have approved, I thought.

Zanmai Exterior

It seemed to grow out of the rock. It wasn’t tall at all, only two stories, and yet it soared. The design, even the landscaping, were, I thought, quintessentially Japanese.

Zanmai Exterior 1
Inside, workers were putting the finishing touches on what they told me was a 35 foot high ceiling. Nearby was Steve Dodson, one of the partners, supervising every detail.

Zanmai Workers

And the sushi bar was only half complete.

Zanmai Sushi Bar

Sushi Bar?? I thought you said it wasn’t Japanese??? Ahhhh but the owner, whom you probably won’t see but who is probably hard at work in the kitchen cooking your food, is indeed Japanese. Masanobu Terauchi, in fact, has as good a claim as anyone to have brought sushi to America. When he first arrived in the U.S. in 1977, the American-style sushi rolls were just in the beginning stages of their creation. Chef Nobu enthusiastically embraced the creative new sushi styles. Why? Because back in the early ’80s, how else could he get Oklahomans to get within 100 feet of a plate of raw fish? “I’m the pioneer,” he told me. “I educated Tulsans to like sushi. I developed the new sushi more than anyone else.” And he has a good claim to this. Over the years, he’s invented more than a hundred new sushi rolls. It’s not surprising that Zanmai has a sushi menu. You can get it at the bar or in the main dining room.

As I walked around the building site, I realized that Zanmai’s decor was quintessentially Japanese. The aged blackened cedar panels embodied wabi sabi, and the spare spacious elegance exemplified shibui. And, on the other side of the building, is a room that embodies teppanyaki!

Zanmai Teppanyaki Room

Yes, that’s the room that offers a crowd-pleasing teppanyaki menu. It’s as much fun as a one-ring circus, and under the expert hands of the chef the grills explode with fire!

Zanmai Fire

Teppanyaki, which is also sometimes called hibachi, even on Zanmai’s menu, was invented in Japan just after World War II. That and sushi are Japan’s biggest culinary contributions to the rest of the world. The chef cooks over a flat iron griddle right next to your table. It’s a flashy art and they try to put on a good show. Showmanship aside, it’s not that easy to do. On one episode of Top Chef Masters, the contestants, some of them famous American chefs, had to cook on one, and they failed miserably. They burned the food, or undercooked parts of it. It takes training and experience. When my friend and I went last October, our chef, Toshi, had both. He’s been doing teppanyaki for 28 years, both here and in Japan. (He also was chef at a French restaurant in Japan.)

Zanmai Toshi

First, he cooked our vegetables and fried rice.

Zanmai Vegetables

Then he had fun tossing an egg, shell and all, into the air, and cutting it in half with a cleaver as it was still in the air.

Zanmai Egg Cutting
Zanmai Steak

Then he prepared the meat. We ordered filet mignon ($26). He cooked the steaks, seasoned them, cut them into strips and then cubes. He also cooked a few shrimp for us, and I got them all since thankfully my friend doesn’t like shrimp. It was flat out just plain delicious. Especially the steak. A nice deal too, since the meal includes salad with a tangy sesame dressing, soup (it’s worth the $3 supplement for a flavorful seafood bisque), and dessert, which was a scoop of soft ice cream a lot like custard.

I returned in early November. I got sole and steak.

Zanmai Sole and Steak

The sole was delicious, and tasted lightly pan-fried in butter. The strip steak was not nearly as good as the filet. It’s worth the few dollars extra to get the filet if you do teppanyaki.

On my latest visit, whose climactic lamb orgy began this review, I skipped the teppanyaki and headed for the main dining room. We began with an appetizer…

Zanmai Beef Sashimi

Beef sashimi ($12) with ginger, nira (Japanese chives), hot olive oil, and sesame seeds, and all surrounded by a yuzu and soy sauce. A triumph! Lovely contrasting (yet not conflicting) flavors blended in my mouth. A blend of West and East and, though this dish is much more Asian than most of the main dining room’s food, I think it epitomizes Zanmai. And so does my friend’s delicious filet.

Zanmai Filet

Zanmai has a whole range of mouth-watering steaks, including a 22 ounce USDA Prime Dry-Aged ribeye ($68) from the same St. Louis supplier that serves Prhyme, the only other Tulsa restaurant to offer dry-aged steaks. The filet ($35) isn’t prime, it’s choice, but my friend loved it!  And all too soon it was time to leave.

But before we leave, let’s step out on the patio and have another look at the Tulsa skyline.

Zanmai Patio

Zanmai 

1402 S. Peoria
556-0200
http://zanmaiok.com/
Open every day from 11 AM to 10 PM. Lunch menu, less extensive and less expensive, until 4 PM.

Check out my last review of Zanmai http://tulsafood.com/asian/a-taste-of-zanmai

Brian Schwartz: Author

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society.  www.theomegasociety.com

I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.

“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

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